The way we create and consume news is changing. Just 20 years ago, the news industry got to choose whose views would be aired, and readers and viewers were the recipients of those decisions.
Now – as a reader or viewer – if you’re caught up in the middle of an event, you only have to reach for your smartphone and can be recording your own footage and live tweeting in a matter of seconds. Therefore, the divide between the creators of news and the audience is blurring.
Twitter has reacted to this by re-positioning itself as a news app and allowing users to broadcast live directly from the app without having to open Periscope, while Facebook rolled out its live capabilities to all users.
As a result, news stories are breaking on social media before they do in mainstream media. For example, the raid which led to the death of Osama Bin Laden was one of the biggest events of 2011 and was initially reported in tweets by a local IT consultant the day before Barack Obama officially announced it to the world.
More recently Facebook Live has been monumental in highlighting racial tensions across the pond, with several videos of police brutality and violence raising complex ethical and policy issues around live streaming.
While writing this column, I was shocked by some of the stories I found simply by typing ‘Facebook Live’ into Google’s news section; countless uncensored horrific events and tragedies from across the world have been captured by both victims and perpetrators alike.
Therefore, this new style of what is being dubbed ‘citizen journalism’ can be a double-edged sword. Although it helps to encourage people to become more engaged in the issues affecting their lives, citizen reporters don’t have any formal training on how to handle certain situations that may arise.
Such intimate broadcasting does allow for accessibility and openness, and can be extremely powerful, but it can be argued that a lack of regulation can allow for exploitation. Users are quick to seek immediate gratification in the form of likes and shares with no thought for any potential legal consequences.
While traditional TV broadcasters are subject to a stringent set of standards and have a short delay in their broadcasts to allow for editing, internet streaming services and social media sites have no such limitations.
Despite this, it can’t be denied that there is something more human in that, which appeals to the average Joe, and there’s no doubt that the digital sphere creates a new level of realism that could never be reached through traditional news reporting.
Citizen journalism provides people with a different perspective from one of their own and encourages passion and enthusiasm on topics, events and issues that the mainstream media might otherwise miss.
It is not only the consumption of news that’s changing, but also how we define what is newsworthy. Stories are so readily available 24/7, from countless different sources, and we can pick and choose what to read, watch and subscribe to, but also what to ignore.
Like it or not, the ubiquity of modern technology and the internet means that citizen journalism is here to stay and will continue to influence the creation and consumption of news globally.